- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2004

In 1939, Albert Einstein drafted a short letter to Franklin Roosevelt advising the president that it was possible to generate huge amounts of explosive power from the atom. Six years later, two Japanese cities were laid waste by two atom bombs. The nuclear age had begun.

No letter to the president may ever carry more impact than Einstein’s. But that does not mean that there will never be any events with strategic consequences approaching what E=MC2 wrought. In fact, one may beunderway todaywithin NATO — the profound transformation of the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance Organization, born in 1949 to protect the West from the gathering danger of Soviet expansion.

NATOwas and is a military alliance to defend against militarythreats. For the first 40 years, that threat was well understood in the form of the Soviet Union. Originally, defense rested on “massive retaliation” and the protection afforded by American nuclear superiority. By 1968, that superiority was eroding. NATO agreed to shift its strategy to “flexible response.” This doctrine mandated a balance between nuclear and conventional deterrence, so that Soviet attack would not automatically trigger nuclear war.

Despite clear evidence of a Soviet buildup in conventional and nuclear forces, European allies only reluctantly embraced this strategy. But the so-called Prague Spring of 1968 soon convinced them otherwise. Democratic reform seemed to bloom. That bloom was short-lived. The Soviets intervened to end reform in Hungary and elsewhere, and threatened the other East Bloc states with what became the Brezhnev Doctrine, named for the then-Soviet leader. Soviet military forces would be used to preserve socialist control. NATO’s new strategy was essential preventing the Brezhnev Doctrine from encroaching upon the West.

After the Soviet Union imploded, NATO began the search for a new strategy. The dilemma was finding a valid rationale for a military alliance when there was no military threat even on the distant horizon. September 11 helped clarify a new understanding of danger and, in November 2002, NATO’s heads of state met in Prague to change the alliance yet again. This transformation, if successful, will not only turn NATO on its head, but it could also create the conditions for decades of stability in the West.

The Prague declaration was a commitment to expand membership, missions and capability. This year, NATO will have 26 states. The broader construct of “security” has replaced “defense” in defining missions, and new threats now run from containing the frightening juncture of terrorists and weapons of mass destruction to humanitarian relief, reflecting the realities of the 21st century. New capability will rest on creating a highly trained, ready, agile and capable expeditionary force literally able to be deployed round the world, called the NATO Response Force, or NRF.

The spear for this transformation is the NRF. The tip is the high readiness portion, about 5,000 to 6000 personnel ready to deploy in 5-6 days, with at least 30 days of staying power. But the NRF will require profound changes in how NATO organizes, equips, uses and provides its forces.

Last October at NATO’s meeting of ministers and chiefs of defense staffs in Colorado Springs, a highly successful seminar “war game” on the NRF, and the possible implications in using it, was played. Two weeks ago, 100 NATO flag and general officers, including 10 of four-star rank, with responsibilities for the NRF, met in Norfolk, Va., in Exercise Allied Reach to advance the fielding and deployment of the full force of about 30,000 in two years time. In NATO terms, these were very big deals.

Why is this important? No matter how powerful the United States may be, Afghanistan and Iraq validated the need for allies and for multinational forces that can go into action even at short notice. NATO unanimously joined America in the war on terror immediately after September 11. Today, NATO is in Afghanistan as the International Security and Assistance Force and is likely to go into Iraq as an alliance.

Europeans recognize the new dangers but not as urgently as they should. Looking south, they understand that Africa’s population on the northern tier, the bulk of it Muslim, is the fastest growing in the world. Many will emigrate north. To the east, the Greater Middle East remains a cockpit of terror and violence, in the shadow of oil and nuclear weapons.

This new NATO can form a powerful force to contain instability, violence and terror. But, as in the Cold War, military force is critical. The post-Prague NATO, with the NRF as its cutting edge, fills this role. The crucial question is whether member states will ultimately honor the commitments made at Prague. If they do, and it is no means certain that they will, the new NATO will have great and positive consequence. If not, look out.

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